Dr. W was recommended by two of our doctors, a couple friends and even one of my students who is a doctor. Sealing the deal was the fact that he is among the doctors participating in my health insurance network.
Our first meeting with Dr. W went well. While waiting for our appointment (they were running 40 minutes late) Luiz took the opportunity to tell my whole story to the women waiting alongside us. But as you know, there are few secrets among patients in a doctor’s waiting room in Brazil. The secretary brought us each a glass of water.
Talking with Dr. W felt a bit like talking with a salesman. He asked a few questions of me, but mostly he spent the time touting his Cracker Jack team and the sure success associated with the procedure. He did reference the need for me to make behavioral changes so as not to balloon out again in two years, but mostly he kept moving things forward.
Turns out Dr. W’s team is mostly off the grid. In addition to my appointments with Dr. W I was to make three appointments (each) with a psychologist, a nutritionist and a physical therapist (all on his team) but they do not accept UNIMED insurance and their fee is R$100/visit. It seems pretty clear to me that, since UNIMED requires a referral from each of these professions stating the appropriateness of the procedure, Dr. W hires these specialists to do just that. He has eliminated the unpredictable.
I began to feel like the place was a “Tummy Mill.” Whatever – I still felt confident with the Dr.’s skill (he has done the procedure more than 130 times). And I, too, didn’t want anything less than a positive referral from the other professionals for the procedure.
If you have had to have a bunch of tests done here in Brazil you know that it is YOU that wanders the neighborhood from lab to lab to get the tests, and it is YOU that collects and files the results in a safe place. In my experience results are not sent directly to the doctor. I had my work cut out for me to complete my numerous tests and to keep a file with the growing pile of documents and films listing the results.
When I finally had all the results in hand, we returned to Dr. W’s office for a consult. During the “consultation” Dr. W went through all the documents and entered the results into my data file in his computer. That was it. I had to say, “Excuse me, but are you going to discuss with me the results of these tests? What does each test tell us about my suitability for the surgery?” In one case I said, “Why are so many of the results printed in red ink?” To which he replied, “That means you have high blood pressure.” I said, “So don’t you think you should tell me that? Don’t you think you might want to refer me to a cardiologist for follow up?” Sigh.
I’ve found that doctors here are often focused on getting you in and out quickly, don’t explain things well unless they are asked and are annoyed with patients that have a brain and ask questions (this goes for our experience at the Cancer Institute as well). It seems very old school – just do what they say and say “thank you doctor.”
So my opinion over time of Dr. W has been less than stellar.
Each time I went for a consultation with any of the professionals in his stable I got a stray piece of paper that filled in one more piece of the overall puzzle. What I wonder is – if every patient is basically going to go through a similar process, why not put together three or four pages, double sided, that lays it all out and give that guide booklet to the patient? No. It was all disjointed and a bit confused.
Trust me, the secretary was never busy. She could easily have printed and collated said booklets.
To the team’s credit they host a 3 hour meeting once a month for patients to go and listen to presentations by the members of the team and to ask questions. But I found the meetings more like a Mary Kay sales pep talk than a careful presentation of the details and procedures associated with the surgery.
In the end I didn’t actually go to all three consults with each of the team members, but I didn’t miss anything. I was not going to part with my money that easily.
Then two days before the surgery the secretary just happened to ask, “Have you called to arrange the anesthesiologist?” What!? Who knew? It was our job to call the anesthesiologist and tell him when we needed him (because, of course, the secretary had no time between chatting with her girlfriends on her cell and standing in the hallway talking with the other secretaries in neighboring offices).
So we called the guy and made arrangements to meet so he could get a sense of what he needed to bring to the surgery. While he was examining me (now the day before the surgery) he said, “You’re pretty big. I think we will want to use an extra instrument to ensure there are no difficulties. There will be an extra charge.” “How much?” we asked. “We can talk about that tomorrow,” he said. WTF?
The Brazilian penal code has a section addressing fraud. The first three numbers of that section are 171. There is a popular expression when something is illegal that it “looks like it’s 171.” That was our take on this last minute extra charge.
The day after the surgery the anesthesiologist came to my room and checked in. Mostly he came to show off the shiny stainless steel instrument he used “just to be safe.” “I bought it in America!” he said with enthusiasm. (I was not impressed.) With his voice lowered so my roommate could not hear, he let us know that his additional fee was R$1,000. We firmly asked for a bill (which he did not have prepared) and said we were first going to submit it to our insurance company for reimbursement. He got all freaked out and told us that the insurance company would not cover it. Winking at each other, Luiz and I just smiled and said we were going to give it a try anyway. We offered our phone number so he could call us when his bill was ready. He said “No, no, you just give me a call.” Yeah, right. We’ll get right on that! Ha! What was up with that?
In the end my experience was (unfortunately) similar to what I have with so many business people here; so often people have an angle, or a gimmick, or a scam to squeeze a few extra bucks out of you. Money is tough to come by in Brazil, no doubt, but thinking I’m getting scammed by my surgeon and anesthesiologist… that’s a bit much.
[I continue to heal well and lose weight at an incredible pace.]